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July 16, 2007
Rocky Balboa - Blu-Ray Movie Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
22/2/200711/7/2007FoxSylvester Stallone
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
MPEG-2DTS-HDMSylvester Stallone

THE MOVIE
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Stallone looks great for his age, or even mine!
Over the last decade movie stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Steven Segal and Sylvester Stallone have struggled at the box office. But as we have seen with Arnold in Terminator 3 and Bruce Willis in Die Hard 4.0, there's nothing like bringing back an old favourite to resurrect a career (although we're not sure how much interest there will be in an Under Siege 3!). With that in mind Sylvester Stallone has pulled out his trump card - Rocky Balboa. It was quite possibly the last roll of the dice for his acting career after a decade of movies where the 'highlight' has been the kid-pic Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over. But what a comeback it was. In a movie that could reflect his own life, Stallone shows that there's always one last fight to keep you going. Written, directed and starring Sylvester Stallone this is a movie which puts the heart back into the character, and the punch back into his career.

Rocky is a longtime retired boxer and remembered by most as one of the greatest boxing champions in the world. He now lives back in the skids of Philadelphia but manages a good life including running his restaurant Adrian's, helping an adult Little Marie and her son Steps, and saying hello at any opportunity to his estranged son Robert. After seeing a virtual fight of Rocky in his prime vs. heavyweight champion Mason "the Line" Dixon, Rocky's interest in fighting sparks again and he plans to fight in local clubs. Mason Dixon and his managers have a different agenda though, with a plan to pit Rocky vs. Mason in real life for a publicity act to regain Mason's lost respect from his fans. Finally agreeing to Mason Dixon's proposal, Rocky prepares to step in the ring for one last time.

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Burt Young puts in a great performance.
I must say I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. No, I was actually very surprised. I had high hopes for something good, but this was one of the few movies of the last year that actually really impressed me. In fact when I saw it at the cinemas with a large group of friends, including several women, everyone walked away impressed. Not since the first Rocky has Sylvester Stallone put in a more heartfelt performance. Stallone is also backed up by a fantastic supporting cast.

Burt Young is superb as Paulie and provides not only plenty of comic relief, but also a heartfelt performance that balances Rocky's heartache over losing his wife Adrian with Paulie’s thoughts that he never treated her as well as he should have. Relative newcomer to acting Geraldine Hughes who plays 'Little' Marie is quite superb in this movie, and certainly proves she can act and deserves to go onto bigger and better things in future. Finally Milo Ventimiglia plays Rocky's grown up son who is living his life in his father's shadow wherever he goes. If there is one weak aspect of the movie it's that Antonio Tarver who plays Mason "the Line" Dixon isn't given enough screen time to become a menacing opponent in the same vein as Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed, Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago or even Mr T as Clubber Lang.

VIDEO
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Now this... is... Rocky.
It appears that the transfer we're getting of Rocky Balboa is different to that in America. Over in the states the movie is encoded in AVC MPEG-4 while in Australia we have an MPEG-2 transfer, both are presented at 1.85:1. While we can't do a direct comparison of the two different versions what really astounds in this MPEG-2 encoded Australian release is that for almost the entire movie the bitrate remains above, and often well above, 30Mbps.

We must point out however that when this film was being made Stallone opted for a documentary styled look and feel so there are moments when the camera work isn't great, and the film looks unpolished and often grainy. This may have been due to the use of HD cameras rather then film in places and there is a notable shift in picture quality when you get to the main fight - where we assume they used film. There are also moments when the image appears to be overly saturated with contrast, the prime example being when Rocky gets the porch light working on Marie's house. At other times the image has a very blue/cold look to it - perhaps intentional, but occasionally distracting too. The end result is an imperfect picture in the film but one which is probably as perfect as possible on Blu-Ray.

AUDIO
One area where we a little worse off then the American version is the audio. While American's can enjoy a PCM track encoded at 48kHz/16-bit/4.6mpbs we here in Australia are left with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 which, without direct comparison, can only assume isn't quite up to the quality of the PCM track. As expected current decoders will receive the core 'DTS 1.5Mbps' audio - but it's no slouch and even at that level the soundtrack we've got here is pretty impressive. Sure Sylvester Stallone mumbles his way through the many dialogue based scenes, but it’s probably as good as he's ever sounded. There is some use of directional effects, but it's not too aggressive. The music is also great, and certainly when the Rocky theme kicks in you really know it, and it sounds spectacular.

The disc also includes English Descriptive Audio for the visually impaired which is a 2 channel 224kbps track as well as a Italian and Spanish 768kbps DTS audio tracks. The latter two are very impressive and while they don't have the same crispness as the English DTS-HD Master Audio track, they aren't bad either.

EXTRAS
I have to say that for a 'small' release - indeed the movie was made for only $US30 million apparently the extras on this disc are pretty good. In fact, they're certainly among the better we've seen on Blu-Ray to date. Certainly the audio commentary is well worth a listen, however with over 2 hours of documentaries and other video features to watch there is quite a bit of substance here.

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You know this movie has a boxing match right?
Audio Commentary with Sylvester Stallone:

    I guess the most interesting aspect of this audio commentary is that you're basically getting a 3 in 1 commentary. How's that you ask? Well not only did Sylvester Stallone star in the movie, but also wrote and directed the movie. He's clearly very passionate about the movie and provides a lot of production details and stories. Of the hundreds of audio commentaries I've listened to in my lifetime this is certainly in the better portion and is well worth a listen to at least once. The commentary is recorded at 224kbps in stereo sound.

Rocky Balboa: Going the Distance (27:03):

    Presented in Standard Definition video with 224kbps Stereo sound this featurette is a great look at the history of Rocky, the impact it had on numerous people, and the lead up to the creation of Rocky Balboa.

Skills Vs Will: The Making of Rocky Balboa (17:47/HD):

    A more detailed look at the creation of this latest movie including some behind the scenes footage and plenty of interviews from the cast and crew. It's a lot shorter then I would have liked, but is still a nice piece.

Reality in the Ring: Filming Rocky's Final Fight (15:38/HD):

    Presented in High Definition with 224kbps Stereo sound this piece looks at the process involved in filming the movies climactic fight sequence, making the fight as realistic as possible, and then editing it into the final movie. Not overly long, but an interesting piece nonetheless.

Virtual Champion: Creating a Computer Fight (5:08/HD):

    An all too short look at how the computer fight was developed for the movie including motion capture. Not overly detailed and probably not something you'll look at more then once.

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Geraldine Hughes puts in a stellar performance.
Boxing Bloopers (1:31/HD):

    A short series of bloopers during the filming of the movie, and not just boxing bloopers. Way too short and disappointing overall.

Deleted Scenes (19:31/HD):

    A series of seven deleted scenes that adds more dialogue, and in all honesty could have been kept in the movie, although they would have slowed the pace down further. The video and audio quality of these scenes varies a bit.

Alternate Ending (3:38/HD):

    An alternate ending that doesn't quite satisfy in the same way the final movie edit does as it feels much more drawn out then it needs to be. Still nice to see the alternative.

OVERALL
Rocky has become an institution and while the series of films has been all downhill since the first one in 1976 this latest movie is quite the opposite. Indeed I would put Rocky Balboa right up there with the fist movie - it's that good. This Blu-Ray disc provides a superb transfer in both video and audio, as well as a decent set of extras. This is certainly a movie that Rocky and non-Rocky fans alike will love.

Review By: Dave Warner

THE MOVIE
8/10
THE VIDEO
8/10
THE AUDIO
7.5/10
THE EXTRAS
6/10
OVERALL
7.5/10

Note: All images in this article are Copyright© Fox. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.